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29 Aug, 2013

Rifai Re-elected by Acclamation to Head UNWTO, Pledges Reform via Consensus

Victoria Falls, Zambia/Zimbabwe — UN World Tourism Organisation Secretary-General Dr Taleb Rifai, 64, was re-elected to serve another four-year term covering the period 2014-17. Nominated unanimously by the Executive Council and re-elected by acclamation, he received a standing ovation and a nearly one-minute round of applause at the General Assembly on August 28.

Dr Rifai

The standing ovation which greeted Dr Rifai’s election.

The Zambian Tourism Minister had a dance troupe ready to mark the occasion.

In a moving acceptance speech, he said he had been honoured and humbled by the re-election, but also admitted that he had had second thoughts about standing.

He began by noting that his destiny was connected with Africa, pointing out that he had had been elected deputy secretary-general at a UNWTO meeting in Senegal, nominated for his first term by an Executive Council meeting in Mali and now re-elected in Zambia. “So I guess there must be something that connects me to Africa.”

He said he did not want to talk about his future plans, but hinted that some senior management changes may be in the offing. Rather, he said he would prefer to talk about working relationships over the next four years.

“I am a reformer and a consensus builder. The two can go hand-in-hand and should go hand-in-hand. You cannot live in a world that is static. Everything changes. We have no option other than to keep reforming and keep changing. Reform is a process and not an end goal. It is not just a terminology. Reform and change are a journey not a destination and you cannot do that without building consensus.

“Change will never take deep roots, if the people are not with you and if you are not with the people. And that takes effort, it takes energy and consumes a lot of what we do. Therefore I will continue to be a reformer and a consensus builder.

“In working with you I want to make it very clear that I not only don’t mind scrutiny, I welcome scrutiny and I invite it. I take pleasure in trying to live up to challenges. Therefore any member states that have a feeling that they are being too picky to scrutinise me can feel relaxed about it. I am up to it and I welcome it. It is what makes us better people and honest people, through better transparency and better direct dialogue, better constructive dialogue.

“We will continue to have our differences. Because leadership is not about just trying to please everybody and trying to build consensus and not trying to upset anybody. Leadership does sometimes require firmness. It does require that some people are happy and some people are not. I can only promise you to be faithful and loyal to the organisation.”

He then talked about his relationships with his “three families.”

His first focussed on his direct family, paying tribute to his wife (who was seated in the audience). “I take strength, I take courage and take hope in having my wife with me. This lady has been with me on my journey of life and given me all the support a person needs. I’m a lucky and a better person because of her.”

Travel Impact Newswire Executive Editor Imtiaz Muqbil was the only Asia-based travel journalist invited to cover the UNWTO’s 20th General Assembly.

He then spoke about his second family, the 92 staff-members of the UNWTO. “I am equally blessed to have people with wonderful, wonderful qualities working with me in Madrid over the last 7 years. They represent the essence of what the United Nations is all about. They are not divided by colour, creed or nationality. They are all together and we clearly do our best.” Saying that each one of his staff was equal to 10 in other organisations, he asked for the UNWTO members support to keep them motivated to do better.

He referred to many of them by name. “You will never see them at the (UNWTO social functions). They miss all the parties during the sessions because they have to stay up to 1 to 2 o’clock in the morning getting the papers ready for the meetings following day.” One staffer was taking care of a baby and had brought the infant with her to Zambia.

Finally, he paid tribute to the UNWTO members themselves, lauding them all as “people working for the good of society.” He concluded by expressing the hope and prayer that he would be blessed with the health and the energy to keep serving the members in future.

Brief biography

Taleb Rifai (Nationality: Jordanian. Born in 1949 in Cairo) was elected as Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) at the General Assembly, Astana, Kazakhstan, in October 2009 and begun his four-year term on the 1st January 2010. He assumed the functions of Secretary-General ad interim of the World Tourism Organization since 1st March 2009 and served as Deputy Secretary-General from February 2006 to February 2009.

Mr. Rifai has an extensive background in international and national public service, the private sector and academia. Prior to joining UNWTO he was the Assistant Director General of the International Labour Organization (ILO). Mr. Rifai has also served in several ministerial portfolios in the Government of Jordan: Minister of Planning and International Cooperation, Minister of Information and Minister of Tourism and Antiquity.

As CEO of Jordan’s Cement Company, Mr. Rifai successfully led the first large-scale privatization and restructuring scheme in Jordan during the mid-1990’s. Other positions he has held include Director of the Economic Mission to Washington DC and Director General of the Investment Promotion Corporation of Jordan.

Until 1993, Mr. Rifai was involved in research, teaching and practicing Architecture and Urban Design in Jordan and the USA. He has a Ph.D. in Urban Design and Regional Planning from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, an M.A. in Engineering and Architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in Chicago, and a BS.c. in Architectural Engineering from the University of Cairo in Egypt.